Alan Turing & the Computer's Initial Purpose

Part 4 of the 4-part documentary (titled Dangerous Knowledge) begins at t=20:00 in the lower/bottom window of the BBC video posted » here. This final part is titled The Enigma and deals with Alan Turing (1912-1954), who has been called "the father of computer science."

Alan TuringSo if anybody asks, "Who's yer daddy?" while you're using your computer, you can tell them, "Alan is."

The greatest prize awarded to the computer-scientist-of-the-year is called the Turing award, US$250K, thanks to Intel & Google. (You might've noticed that Turing was mentioned in the movie Social Network.)

The most interesting quote in the whole video comes at t=20:40. See here:

"Turing was a much more practical man than Gödel, and simply wanted to make Gödel's theorem clearer and simpler. How to do it, came to him, as he said later, in a vision. That vision was the COMPUTER.

The invention that has shaped the modern world was first imagined simply as the means to make Gödel's Incompleteness theorem more concrete."

Trippy, no? The computer (that you're using right now) had it origins in/as a vision to clarify Gödel's Incompleteness theorem .. which basically says that .. no matter how hard you try (or how smart you might be), there will be things that, while TRUE, mathematically speaking, will never be able to be PROVED true. (Might need a minute to ponder that.)

In other words, there are some truths you can never prove true. Sounds a little like faith, no?

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I find it interesting that the 'father' of computer science is gay (.. think about that) .. and that he committed suicide by eating a poison apple, like Snow White.

I also find it interesting that Gödel, whose Incompleteness theorem was the impetus for inventing the computer .. went crazy. Hasnt your computer drove you crazy a time or two? =)

Godel & Einstein at Princeton in 1955Speaking of Gödel (the pronunciation of his name sounds like 'gur-dle') .. at t=8:55 in the lower/bottom video, you'll find this quote:

"But then a young man came here to this library, at the university of Vienna. His name was Kurt Gödel. And the work that he did here, brought that dream of finding the perfect system of reasoning and logic crashing down."

If you enjoy that video, I bet you'll also like » the Roots of Lisp (four paragraphs by Paul Graham).

Along these lines .. of Alan Turing being the "father of computer science" .. it's worth familiarizing yourself with the "decision problem" (David Hilbert, 1928) .. because this project / challenge was the impetus for developing the "models of computation" that later led to the development of early programming languages. At least, that is my understanding.

Might be worth noting that, at t=19:20 of this video (which is a course on computer programming based on the SICP book taught at Berkeley), it says that "quantum physics" is the lowest/base level of abstraction (.. right below the transistor). I was not expecting to see quantum physics mentioned in a course on programming.

Time magazine named Turing one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century.

For more along these lines, here's a Google search preconfigured for the query » alan turing computer science gödel incompleteness theorem

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rad published on April 3, 2011 4:03 AM.

Finding Your Breaking Point in 127 Hours was the previous entry in this blog.

Nietzsche, Insanity, Uncertainty & Intuition is the next entry in this blog.

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